From the Fields® - May 6, 2015

By Leonard Souza, Kings County walnut and corn grower , Sacramento County diversified grower

We're spraying herbicide on the corn and getting ready to irrigate. I go either way on the corn—grain or silage. I use this one variety for grain and for silage, and it's done very well. Most likely I'll harvest it for silage because the grain prices are so low, and dairymen really need the silage.

On the walnuts, we're mowing weeds and watching for codling moth. We've also got some problems with fungus coming in—botryosphaeria—that everybody is concerned about. It seems like the orchard is getting hit with that. It's kind of like a form of blight, but it's more of a fungus. We've got to monitor that, try to determine when to spray for it. That's something fairly new that we've been having to keep an eye on.

With infected orchards, the fruit would first die and then you get a lot of dead wood in your trees. When you harvest, you'll have a lot of problems with twigs and branches that fall off when you shake, so you've got more problems when you're harvesting. Then what do you do with this wood? How do we get rid of the wood that's infected? Do you burn it or do you mow it? Do you shred it, chip it and leave it in the field? That wood is infected with the fungus. Or do you haul it off and burn it? You're not legally supposed to be able to burn, so you're caught in the middle.

The University of California has been doing a lot of studies on it to find out what's the best material to use to control it and the timing of the spray. I've been attending all these meetings to learn something about it. I've been reading articles in Ag Alert® and wherever else to learn about it. The PCA has informed me on different things. We're trying to decide on the timing of the spray and different materials to use, in terms of which one works better than others, has longer residual.

They've had this problem in almonds and pistachios too, but it's kind of different for walnuts. Water and rain is very critical because moisture and temperature make it thrive. It seems the fungus strikes open wounds, so if you shake a walnut tree, then you've got the wound where the walnut fell. Or if a leaf falls off and you have rain during that period, it's susceptible. So timing of the spray is critical.

We've also been looking at the walnut set to determine what kind of crop we've got. The bloom has been really extended this year. I don't know if it's because the chilling hours weren't good during the winter or what the problem is.

By Bob Steinacher, Tehama County diversified farmer

We are about a full month ahead of our "normal" activities. Our fig trees are already pushing the second crop, with the first crop sizing extremely fast.

We would normally see the second crop starting to form at the end of May, but this year they were pushing at the end of April. Our temperatures are running 10 to 15 degrees above normal, which the figs love.

Our walnut trees are pushing out erratically, but this has been the norm for the last few years. Hopefully, they will set a normal crop. We have had to irrigate frequently this spring and are looking at a summer irrigation schedule already.

We are worried that our water table will continue to decline with all the orchards going in around us. I felt comfortable that we put in 500-foot wells when we did, but now our neighbors are going to 600 to 900 feet.

The hay crop matured early like everything else and some folks got a decent crop in without any rain damage. Others weren’t so lucky.

The olive growers are seeing a mixed bag of mediocre to good bloom, but a lot of them are considering pulling out their labor-intensive crop for nuts.

Let’s hope for a huge snowpack next winter, or I’m not sure how some farmers will survive.

By Jim Spinetta, Amador County winegrape grower

The good thing is that the Sierra foothills have most likely made it through the frost season, although several growers in our zinfandel and barbera wine region did notice roughly 10 percent of crop damage due to the repeated advective and conventional frosts. Crop set on the winegrapes looks average, and some growers note the clusters on their vines are in bloom.

Our viticulturalists are seasonally busy mowing the grass, disking fields, tying up young plants, applying crop care materials, budding and grafting.

The last precipitation from the recent storm was an acute blessing for our region, yet groundwater and creeks are running seasonally low. I am still anxious for more rain.

By Pat Borrelli , Merced County diversified grower

On our alfalfa, we’re just getting ready for the second cutting. Our cotton has been planted and it’s out of the ground, doing very well because the weather has been good. The processing tomatoes just got planted. They seem to be looking good. We’re getting ready to put a second water on our tomatoes.

The water is the biggest concern. Our allocation from the Central California Irrigation District has been cut, so we’re trying to deal with that right now. We’re probably going to have to leave some ground fallow, just like everybody, and try to manage the alfalfa. We’ll probably end up getting maybe one or two fewer cuttings than we normally do. We’re just not going to be able to irrigate the hay as much as we normally do.

It’ll probably be dry beans that we fallow. We can use that water to stretch it out. If we leave ground out, then we can move that water to the stuff that we have planted. We’ll plant something, but not all of it; we’ll leave some ground out. We’ll still have some dry beans.

The weather has been pretty favorable as far as curing the hay. We’ve got good, warm days. We did not receive any rain here with this last little storm that came through. I know in the north, they had some. For curing the hay, the weather has been really good. We planted cotton in the middle of April, so it’s all up and looks really good right now because of the warmer weather.

By Michael McDowell, Sacramento County diversified grower

With pears, they have bloomed and are setting. We started our first irrigation for the year. The crop looks good. Harvest is probably going to be earlier than usual. Bloom came early, but it kind of stretched out longer than normal. We didn't have enough cold hours, so we had about a month worth of bloom versus one or two weeks. Pears have longer requirements for dormancy and cold hours. We'll probably have different maturity throughout the tree because of the longer bloom.

We're about halfway through our first cutting of alfalfa. We started earlier this year than last year. It kind of all depends on the rain. Last year we had some April rains, so we didn't get started early. So I think we're a little ahead of schedule this year. The first field we did was during the last week of March. We've never started that early before.

I take about five weeks to cut all of our stuff rather than cutting it all at once, so I can keep up with our irrigation. We do six cuttings usually, but I space my acreage out and only do about 50 to 100 acres a week for about five weeks. Instead of doing all 400 acres at one time, I spread the equipment out and our irrigation requirements.

We've got some winter wheat. It all looks like it is going good. And we've got some triticale for hay that looks pretty good so far. We haven't irrigated, but I know other people in our area have. We planted our lower fields that have more moisture typically. We're out here in the delta, so we've got a high water table. That's helping us quite a bit. If we didn't have that going in our favor, I think we'd be really hurting.

December helped out a lot. It filled up the fields for us. We were able to plant about 125 acres prior to the December rains, and we had to wait until January to plant the triticale. I was getting worried because we weren't getting rain after we planted that. It was growing slowly until that first week in February, when we had that big storm. I have stuff that got planted in the same field that took off OK and other seeds that were growing, but not at the same rate, but they're finally catching up to each other.